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Weight loss vaccine could reduce heart attack risk, study finds

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Administered by injection into the skin, the drug makes people feel fuller and more satisfied, so they eat less.

  • Author, Thomas Mackintosh
  • Role, BBC News

Obesity vaccines could reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes in people even if they fail to lose much weight, according to an analysis of a study funded by a drugmaker.

Researchers studied semaglutide – a prescription medicine offered by the NHS – which suppresses the appetite and is sold under the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic.

They said the weekly injections could also benefit the cardiovascular health of millions of adults.

The latest results have not yet been published in a journal but were presented at a conference.

Professor John Deanfield, who led the work, said semaglutide could have a positive impact on blood sugar, blood pressure or inflammation, as well as direct effects on heart muscle and vessels.

The study, carried out by University College London (UCL) among 17,604 people over the age of 44 from 41 countries, had already shown benefits for the heart.

Now, some data from the same Select trial, funded by Novo Nordisk, suggests there are benefits regardless of a person’s starting weight and how much they lose.

“Major breakthrough”

Speaking before presenting the study at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Italy, Professor Deanfield said the findings had “important clinical implications”.

He said it was an important discovery, comparable to the introduction of cholesterol-lowering tablets called statins in the 1990s.

“We finally realized that there was a class of drugs that would change the biology of this disease and benefit a large number of people. This was a major breakthrough and transformed the practice of cardiology.

“We now have this class of drugs that could also transform many of the chronic diseases of aging,” he said.

Wegovy contains the same ingredient as Ozempic – a diabetes drug considered Hollywood’s “skinny shot” of choice.

However, experts have previously warned that it is not a quick fix or a substitute for good diet and exercise, and should only be offered under medical supervision.

Common side effects include nausea or upset stomach, bloating, and gas.

And people may regain weight once they stop treatment, the trials suggest.

Semaglutide mimics the hormone GLP-1, which makes people feel full and less hungry.

It must be prescribed by a doctor – to overweight or obese patients, who then inject once a week, using pre-filled pens.

Risk reduction

The analysis looked at how long it took before patients suffered major cardiovascular events – such as a heart attack or stroke – or developed heart failure.

After 20 weeks of treatment, 62% of patients had lost more than 5% of their body weight, compared to 10% in the placebo group.

However, the reduction in risk of heart attack, stroke or heart failure was similar in patients who lost more than 5% of their body weight and those who lost less than 5% or gained weight.

Professor Deanfield said: “Around half of the patients I see in my cardiovascular practice have weight levels equivalent to those in the Select trial and are likely to benefit. »

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Professor Deanfield said the drug had a “potentially important place” in the treatment of obesity.

“Many people who are overweight or obese have struggled to improve their weight, and these drugs, for that reason alone, offer an important clinical opportunity,” he said.

“But these are medications that will also improve their basic medical problems. It’s really, really exciting.”

However, Professor Rameen Shakur, an expert in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Brighton, who was not involved in the research, said caution should be exercised.

“We do not know exactly the mechanism and biological process by which semaglutide could reduce cardiac mortality per se.

“I don’t think it’s commercially realistic to subject entire populations to medical treatment until we know how the biological system works.

“Interestingly, there remains a risk of pancreatitis and some rare thyroid cancers, which often goes unreported and also needs to be monitored during patient use.”

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